By MADDY VITALE
When a four-alarm fire broke out at the iconic Ocean City amusement park, Playland’s Castaway Cove, people talked. Could the Jan. 30 fire that charred buildings and destroyed the arcade have been intentionally set or was it an accident?
“There were a lot of rumors about what happened and lots of confusion,” Brian Hartley, vice president of Playland’s, said in an interview Saturday. “There was a lot of speculation. That’s social media today. We just tried to dispel the rumors and waited for multiple agencies to put out their report to confirm what we already knew.”
And on Feb. 8, the report came in on the fire. The investigation led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) determined the fire at the park at 10th Street and the Boardwalk was accidental. There were no injuries and the park was closed at the time of the blaze.
The circumstances, the rumors, the facts and how Hartley, Scott Simpson, owner of Playland’s Castaway Cove, and staff managed to not only open the park for the season, but have a great summer, are explained on an episode of “The Web Masters,” an Amazon Prime TV series.
In it, Hartley speaks about setting the record straight and some of the obstacles that they have endured in the aftermath of the fire.
WebiMax CEO Ken Wisnefski is featured in The Web Masters series along with his director of business development Ed Cilurso.
Wisnefski, a resident of Ocean City, spoke of the importance that the amusement park means to him and his family as well as so many other families that have made Playland a yearly tradition spanning generations.
“Playland has always been an iconic piece of Ocean City and a place that is important to my family as well,” Wisnefski said. “I was really pleased we could work with Brian to set the record straight. Brian and his team run an impressive operation and it’s great to see how well they are doing this summer.”
Shane Farley, executive producer of The Web Masters, said that the episode was important for a business that means so much, to so many people, from visitors to the residents of the community.
“I love when we do an episode where Ken (Wisnefski) and Ed (Cilurso) can help a business get the real story out,” Farley said. “Playland, to no fault of their own, suffered a fire, but rebuilt and were back in business and thriving. WebiMax made sure the community knew that.”
Some of the uphill battle for Playland was to dispel the misinformation fueled by social media and to let visitors know that the park was open for business.
While the arcade was destroyed in the blaze, virtually all of the rides at Playland were untouched by the fire.
“We opened on Palm Sunday weekend. We had a partial opening since there was no arcade,” Hartley said. “It was just really important to get the word out that we were open for business and that we were not going anywhere.”
And the plan is to be open until Columbus Day weekend, as is the case every year, he noted.
Hartley said plans are under way for a new deck to replace where the arcade once was. The matter is on the Ocean City Planning Board agenda for next month. He said renderings will be revealed during that meeting to showcase what Playland would like to build.
“It has been a long spring trying to get this project going. We had some difficulty with the demolition and getting construction materials,” Hartley explained. “But we have ideas for how we want to lay things out. It took a lot longer than we expected, but as we dove into new regulations it changed how we had to look at the design.”
The plan, he said, should make visitors happy.
“I think people will be really excited about the plan moving forward,” he said. “It has been a long process to get there, but we are pretty excited about what is to come.”
On Monday, weather depending, concrete will be poured and the construction of a new deck will begin.
“Our goal is to have the first floor of the building down for late spring, early summer of 2022,” Hartley pointed out. “The goal is to get everything the public would use back up and running for the summer.”